Uber drivers say they are being pressured to break COVID restrictions and drive into high-risk hotspots in Sydney because they fear they will lose their jobs if they turn down trips.
A number of rideshare drivers working for Uber have told The New Daily they are being allocated jobs that take them into the eight high-risk Sydney LGAs despite not living in these areas.
Other drivers who do live within the LGAs are being given trips that take them across those borders, in a direct contravention of NSW Health regulations, which do not include rideshare drivers on the authorised worker list.
The contraventions are allegedly the result of a blindspot on Uber’s platform, whereby drivers are not shown trip destinations when they accept jobs.
This means they only find out where they are going (and if they are being asked to breach restrictions) when the passenger is already in the vehicle.
The Transport Workers Union says this puts drivers in a difficult position, as cancelling the trip could lead to a passenger complaint and “Uber has historically on multiple occasions sacked drivers following unsubstantiated passenger complaints”.
The ridesharing company, however, says drivers would face no consequences for cancelling trips to and from LGAs of concern.
“Uber is once again acting as though the rules don’t apply, and rideshare drivers are forced to risk their safety and the safety of their families and communities,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said.
One driver, who declined to be named and caught COVID-19 from a passenger last year, told The New Daily he was worried he could catch it again and transmit it to others by inadvertently driving in and out of the COVID hotspots.
“You’ve got no idea where [the passengers] are going,” he said.
“If you realise they are going into a hot zone or out of one, and the driver says, ‘No I can’t’, and cancels it, they can make a complaint and you can get deactivated.”
The driver said he could lose his job if he said no to a passenger.
“It’s really hard. If I don’t have work, I don’t have money.”
Another driver said Uber’s platform “doesn’t have any functionality to prevent us going outside our LGA, and then picking up passengers once we’re outside our LGA”.
“We would have to switch it off and ignore trips before we got back,” he said.
“How come someone can go in and come back out of an LGA but someone who lives there can’t? It defies logic.”
Passengers also at risk
It’s not just drivers being caught unawares, either.
Passengers from outside the eight LGAs say they have been getting into Uber vehicles they later found out had recently carried passengers from high-risk areas.
One passenger who was picked up on Wednesday morning outside the LGAs said their Uber driver lived in Bankstown, but was transporting people across the city.
“He told me he lived in the Bankstown LGA. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He told me he got a trip from Bankstown to Windsor and then picked me up,” the passenger, who wished to remain anonymous, told TND.
“I was a bit concerned for my welfare. I have a newborn at home.”
Calls for change
Drivers have said it would not be an issue if Uber showed them the trip destinations in advance.
They have asked the ridesharing giant to make this information available before they accept the rides, and to stop allocating work that pressures them to break COVID restrictions.
But they have yet to receive a response.
“Uber’s sole priority is making money with none of the risk,” Mr Kaine said.
“Drivers are the ones in danger of contracting and transmitting COVID from hotspot areas, and they’re the ones facing fines and penalties from police for breaching clear health advice through no fault of their own.”
He said Uber must stop allocating work in hotspot LGAs, provide paid pandemic leave to allow workers to get vaccinated, and ensure that no drivers are terminated for refusing unsafe work or following COVID safety practices.
“The NSW government’s hands aren’t clean here either,” Mr Kaine said.
“Drivers have been excluded from the list of authorised workers when there is clearly a need for their services in and out of hotspot areas.”
In a statement provided to The New Daily, NSW Health said people in Greater Sydney were allowed to travel in a car with other people “if the car is being used as a taxi, hire car or rideshare”.
But it said people living in the eight LGAs could only leave home to work if they were an authorised worker, or if they could not reasonably work from home and their workplace was in the same LGA in which they lived or were staying.
This means drivers living in one of the eight high-risk LGAs can only drive within their area.
“Taxi, hire car and rideshare services should have a COVID-19 safety plan in place to help minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19,” the statement read.
The state health authority did not respond to questions asking for a breakdown of the number of cases linked to rideshare services in New South Wales.
An Uber spokesperson told The New Daily the wellbeing of everyone who used its platform was a key priority for the company.
“We have provided guidance to drivers on the NSW government restrictions, including guidelines for those operating inside high-risk LGAs,” they said.
“There is no consequence for driver-partners cancelling trips to and from LGAs of concern, or for drivers operating within these LGAs, and cancelling trips outside of these areas.”